There was a shake-up in leadership last summer at Northern Illinois University. President Doug Baker resigned, paving the way for Lisa Freeman to step in as acting president. At that time she said she would not seek the position on a long term basis, but that has since changed. On this week’s Friday Forum, WNIJ’s Jenna Dooley learns more about Freeman's aspirations for the future.
Dr. Freeman says trustees approached her to consider the presidential post.
"Over the course of the last year as acting president, I’ve had an amazing opportunity to see the university in a much different way through the lens of more students and more alumni," Freeman said. "And my love for this university has deepened. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to continue to move the university forward working with a super leadership team of our deans and our other leaders. And when (Board) Chair Coleman said 'Would you reconsider being our permanent president?' I was ready to say 'I would be honored.'"
There are some in the campus community who think an institution of NIU's size would benefit from a national search. Freeman says there are benefits to having somebody who knows the institution take the helm.
"The familiarity with our strengths and our aspirations gives me a foundation to articulate a shared vision to lead others who know me to follow the pursuit of that vision," Freeman said.
Freeman says she knows there is a great deal of scrutiny for the office of university president. Southern Illinois University is now going through a presidential transition after an abrupt departure. Freeman says she implemented several transparency measures after she took office. That includes posting travel and hospitality expenses online.
"I’ve established an office of ethics and compliance, and a policy librarian, so the way that we do business and the way we should do business is more obvious to everyone who works on campus," Freeman said.
After years without a state budget, she says the greatest challenges in the years ahead remain economic.
"We need to develop funds to make sure that we can reinforce and strengthen the areas that were hurt," Freeman said. "I’m very pleased that last year we were able to give our employees a well-deserved and long-delayed raise. We still need to continue to invest in our people, our programs and our buildings, and that will require us to develop new revenue streams, and to increase philanthropy."
She also says declining enrollment will continue to challenge all of the state's public universities.
"It can be discouraging, annually, to look at decreasing headcounts as we graduate the larger classes of years gone by and accept a smaller class," Freeman said. "Meeting the enrollment challenge is a long game. It requires us to adopt new strategies to be able to tell our story more effectively to students and parents and guidance counselors. And the good thing is we have a great story to tell."
Western Illinois University recently announced a staff reduction plan. Freeman does not anticipate a similar proposal in DeKalb.
Lisa Freeman discusses the future of Northern Illinois University.
"This university is very well positioned, given its place in the dynamic region, and the ability that we’ve shown to use relationships as resources to advance ourselves through making partnerships with community colleges and with businesses," Freeman said. "We’re here to stay for a long time, and continue to offer the great educational product that we do. That doesn’t mean we will look the same. Universities are always evolving, we have to keep pace with the times."
As far as Freeman's future as NIU president, members of the Board of Trustees will gather information from faculty, staff, and student organizations in August and September, and discuss hiring later in the year.
- Chase Cavanaugh contributed to this report